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Russian Forces Gathering in Eastern Ukraine in Preparation for Possible Military Breakthrough; Russian President Vladimir Putin Appoints Commander Known as "Butcher of Syria" to Oversee Military Operations in Ukraine; Report Indicates Russian Forces Taken NGO Members Prisoner in Ukraine. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 11, 2022 - 08:00   ET



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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers in the U.S. and around the world. It is Monday, April 11th. I'm Brianna Keilar in Lviv with John Berman in New York.

The Russian onslaught in eastern Ukraine has begun. The fight for Donbas region is expected to be long and it is expected to be bloody. And Vladimir Putin is bringing in a new commander with a very cruel history to take it over after Russian forces failed to seize the capital of Kyiv. Alexander Dvornikov, also known as the "Butcher of Syria," is notorious for inflicting brutality and atrocities on civilians. President Zelenskyy says Ukraine is ready for the fight but desperately needs more fire power from the west.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We think this will be a new wave of this war. We don't know how much Russian weaponry there will be, but we understand there will be many times more than there is now. It all depends on how fast we will be helped by the United States. To be honest, whether we will be able to survive depends on this.


KEILAR: And new overnight, Russian forces have shelled another railway station in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian rail officials are not providing a specific location here. We are, though, told no one was injured, but five locomotives, tracks, and power lines were damaged. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have new satellite images from Maxar

Technologies. Look at this, you can see, in one second you can see an eight-mile-long convoy of Russian military vehicles making its way south. Maxar says the convoy consists of armored vehicles and trucks with towed artillery and support equipment. Let me show you where this is. It's just east of Kharkiv right here, the eastern city, the second most populous city in Ukraine. The convoy right here appears to be headed toward the Donbas region.

Russia also launched several missile strikes in Dnipro over the weekend, the video of that right there. Military officials confirm that it hit the airport in that city. In that city the airport has been destroyed, we're told. No word yet about possible casualties.

Let's begin our coverage in Kyiv with CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward. Clarissa, every minute that passes this ultimate conflict in the east appears to be growing closer, and Ukrainians saying, in fact, in some ways it's already begun.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, that's exactly what we're hearing from one Ukrainian official who says basically in effect it already has started, the offensive in the east. You're seeing that six-mile-long convoy of Russian weaponry and troops bearing down south, coming from the east of Kharkiv, as you also are seeing Russian troops redeploying after their failed offensive here to the north of Kyiv.

Now, we know there has also been a lot of shelling overnight in the city of Kharkiv right near essentially where that convoy is pushing down from. The governor there saying 66 reports of shelling in about 24 hours, 11 civilians killed, among them a seven-year-old child.

We're also hearing, as you mentioned, about this attack on a railway station in the east. This is significant because although, fortunately, there were no casualties and the target appears to have been several locomotives as well as power lines and the tracks themselves, I think what this speaks to is the clearer, broader Russian strategy here, which is to try to attack Ukraine's attempts at resupply and logistics. This is going to be the big challenge for Ukrainian forces as they face down this Russian offensive in the east, is to sufficiently and adequately be able to resupply their troops on the front line. Unlike Kyiv, this is much further away and much more difficult to get to in terms of what will soon presumably be desperately needed weaponry.

President Zelenskyy says they are ready for this moment, but he has also warned a very bleak picture in terms of the lengths that Russian forces are clearly willing to go to. He spoke to South Korean parliament earlier today and said that he believes tens of thousands of people have been killed in the city of Mariupol. That's in the southeast, that port city that has been bombarded day in and day out for many weeks now.


Indiscriminately, residential buildings, shelters, a maternity hospital most infamously as you probably remember. And so there is a fear going forward. While, of course, we cannot confirm that number in terms of tens of thousands of people killed in that fighting, there is certainly a very real and palpable sense of concern that when this Russian offensive develops or reaches a crescendo, that it is going to be very, very ugly indeed, John.

BERMAN: Clarissa Ward, as always, thank you so much for your reporting.

KEILAR: And also here in Ukraine, Jake Tapper with me now with some breaking news that he's reporting out. What is this?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So there are nine aid workers, nine aid workers who have apparently been taken prisoner by Russian troops according to this NGO. The NGO is called Help People. It's an independent Ukrainian charity that formed not long after the Russian invasion. They provide assistance to individuals and aid and also try to evacuate them. I'm told by the head of the organization that they sent 10 minibuses, not all at the same time, at different times in March down to Mariupol from Zaporizhzhia -- I'm getting that name wrong -- in any case down to Mariupol. And they were full of individuals. And on the way back they were stopped by Russian troops on different days. And the Russian troops tried to get all these minibuses to drive the individuals, the evacuees into Russia. The drivers refused to do so, according to the head of the NGO, at which point the evacuees were let off in the town of Nikolske, and all 10 of the drivers were taken prisoner by the Russians.

Alex Veronin, the head of the NGO, says, he lost contact with all except for one of the drivers. He said that they have been, according to that one driver that he's been in touch with, interrogated with brute force, fed poorly, kept under appalling conditions.

We need to not, of course, because of the fog of war, because of the difficulty in reporting under these circumstances, we can't verify the whereabouts. But the NGO has been in touch with the Ukrainian government, and they don't even know who to talk to on the Russian side to get these drivers freed, these nine drivers who have been detained. They're hoping by telling their story to CNN and publicizing it more broadly, that will provide at least some sort of protection so that the Russians know we are aware of these nine drivers they have taken prisoner and we are trying to keep tabs on them and the NGO is trying to get them out.

KEILAR: I know Berman has a question for you, Jake.

BERMAN: No, I just can show people on the map here. Here is Mariupol right here, where so many people have been trying to evacuate. Zaporizhzhia right here is a city where they're trying to get. And for weeks at this point the Ukrainians have been hoping for these humanitarian corridors to open up. And every other day there's a promise that the Russians will let the buses in, and then they don't let the buses in. In this case, this is a new twist to that, Jake, which is not only have the buses not been getting in, but the bus drivers are being taken captive. It seems doubly cruel, keep people from escaping the city but also persecute the people trying to help. TAPPER: And I think it's one of the things for people watching this

war from abroad who don't understand how can peep be stuck in Mariupol, how come they can't leave. We heard Zelenskyy say that he thinks tens of thousands have been killed there. You can't get out. And then when you have an NGO like help people sending minibuses in, not doing it in a convoy because they thought that would get too much attention, having them go one by one from Zaporizhzhia into Mariupol to try to get them, and then have the drivers basically have the minibuses commandeered and the drivers taken hostage, taken prisoner by the Russians, you see how difficult it is to get any of the people out. That's one of the reasons presumably why Mariupol is such a bloodbath, because the Russians would not let any of the innocent people leave.

KEILAR: It's a gamble to stay and it's a gamble to go. And that's why so many people are having a tough time making the decision.

TAPPER: They're paralyzed. Look what happened to the people trying to flee at Kramatorsk at the train station. They're just trying to leave, and the Russians target Kramatorsk train station with a missile.

KEILAR: Yes. Jake, thank you so much. Really helpful reporting, appreciate it.

And of course, you can catch Jake at 4:00 p.m. eastern on THE LEAD and also tonight at 9:00 p.m.

Russia appointing a new general to lead its invasion of Ukraine after Russians fail to take the capital of Kyiv. Why he has earned the nickname the "Butcher of Syria."


Plus, I'll be speaking with the deputy prime minister of Ukraine who says Russian forces are shaving the heads of Ukrainian prisoners. Stand by.


KEILAR: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying that his country is ready for an increase in full-scale combat actions in the east amid images of this eight-mile-long convoy that is headed south towards the Donbas region. Local officials have been urging communities there to evacuate, telling people they need to go, they need to get to safety. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk spoke with us just moments ago, and here is part of that conversation.


KEILAR: Deputy Prime Minister, thank you so much for being with us this morning. You are overseeing these humanitarian corridors. Are people able to get out using the corridors that are in place? Were they able to over the weekend?

IRYNA VERESHCHUK, UKRAINE'S DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (through translator): No. The humanitarian corridors are not working. People are waiting for days. These are women, children, sick people, pregnant women. They are not able to use these corridors because the Russian side are not abiding by the cease-fire commitments, they're not fulfilling these commitments. And therefore, I would like -- they're not ceasing fire. So therefore, I would like to use this opportunity to address to address the world community through the media and to call for Russia to be made accountable for failing in their commitment to ceasefire.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR Deputy Prime Minister, in the most recent prisoner swap, you were able to get the head of a village near Chernihiv released. Can you tell us about that and what she told you about being in Russian captivity?

VERESCHUK (through translator): Hanna (ph), that's her name is a very courageous and strong woman. And she has -- she has endured a lot. You will have seen her photo and that's evidence of how these inhuman people that call themselves the Russian Army have treated her. She -- her head was shaven, and there was lots that happened that I don't want to repeat here because I don't want people to think of us as victims.

I want people to think -- I want to address the world community to punish those who made these decisions, who are making decisions to torture women, to rape women, this is what we're talking about, to abuse children. And these are the people who are making these decisions.

I'm talking about Putin, but not only Putin. It is Putin and his Russia, they need to be stopped. And I'm talking about Russia, because these are the Russian people, Russian people that are raping Ukraine that are supporting the decisions of their government, and this must not be happening in the 21st Century.

And I want the world community not to think of Ukraine as victims, but to support Ukraine in repelling these horrific assaults.

KEILAR: You mentioned rape, and it is something that can be difficult to talk about, but it's essential so that we understand what people are going through.

What are you hearing of reports of rape and how widespread is this?

VERESCHUK (through translator): These incidents are very widespread, and women are being raped, and I want to say that we need to stop this rape by the Russian Army, and the main rapist Putin, who is raping the world.

He is raping us, he is raping Europe. He is making the world tremble. He is poisoning people in Great Britain. He is the interfering in elections in the United States. He is getting into every Ukrainian house and looting it. And these are his looters, and they are forcibly deporting children. Thousands, tens of thousands of children have been deported from Ukraine and are now being adopted in Russia.

And there'll be some talk about motherly feelings there, and we need to withstand -- we need to repel this mass rape of everything that is good.

KEILAR: We saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the U.K. visiting Ukraine over the weekend. Does President Biden need to?

VERESCHUK (through translator): When President Biden visited Poland. There was this symbolic 180 kilometers that he didn't cross over to Ukraine, and it would have been a huge symbolic step to show that he is not afraid of the world's rapist, of the world's butcher, Putin that has covered Europe in the bodies of Ukrainian women and that is conducting mass atrocities live on air.

And this would have been a symbolic and historic step, but it didn't happen. But if this were, it would have been a symbolic step to come to Ukraine and it would have been powerful, but it needs to go also hand in hand with the actual -- with the action to stop oil and gas, to stop this flow of dollars and euros to Russia to fund their aggression and to stop this rape of Europe.

KEILAR: There are a number of American lawmakers who are in Poland right now. Do you want them to come to Ukraine to visit with officials here?

VERESCHUK (through translator): Every time we see people not across the screen, but face-to-face, we can tell them, we can bring them information that is so important to make the right decision. And the right decision is to stop making these half steps and to make real steps quickly, dynamically, and effectively and that is what America is about. Quick, dynamic, effective decisions. That's what America as the world leader needs to do.

KEILAR: Deputy Prime Minister, thank you for making the time to be with us this morning. We do appreciate it. We invite you to join us anytime that you can.

Deputy Prime Minister Vereschuk, thank you.

VERESCHUK: Thank you.

KEILAR: Breaking this morning, S&P is saying Russia has defaulted on its foreign debt. What it could mean for Russia and for the global economy?


KEILAR: Plus, Ukraine says Russia's new assault on the east has already begun. What to watch for in this battle that may define this war.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, you're looking at video right here from Maxar Technologies of what they say is a large eight-mile long Russian military convoy moving toward the Donbas region in the eastern part of Ukraine.

We will give you a sense of roughly where that is, parked right here, the second largest city in Ukraine on the east, that convoy moving basically in this direction.

I want to bring in Cedric Leighton, retired Lieutenant Colonel, our military analyst.

Cedric, give me a sense of what you think that convoy and where you think that convoy is headed.


Again, this is the basic route of this convoy. So, we're talking east of Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, going down here.

I think it's going to go down this way or potentially down closer to Kharkiv in this way. If it does go the second route, it will go close to Kramatorsk. This is the place where the train station was hit.


LEIGHTON: I think the main goal is to go down this way toward the south, probably join up with forces from the south, which is Russian occupied territory at the moment, or what they could do is move into Dnipro, which is a junction point for not only roads and railroads, but the airport was just hit.

So this is one of the areas where the Russians could be very active in the next few days because of the strategic importance of this region.

BERMAN: And as we look at Eastern Ukraine here, we look at the Donbas region here, this is where we know the Russians say they want to take this battle.

What will that battle look like, Cedric? What do the Russians want to do? And how can the Ukrainians counter it?

LEIGHTON: So John, this battle is going to look very different from what we saw around Kyiv if everything goes according to the Russian plan.

This is open territory. In fact, if we take a look at what it looks like, these are the steps right around the Donbas region, flatland perfect for tank warfare, and it just so happens that the soldier is using a javelin right there.

But when you look at the map here, what we're seeing is the capability of the Russians to go down this way, and this is going to be tank country, unless -- unless -- the Russians are forced to divide their forces into different ways, and then what could happen is, we could have some small unit actions similar to what we saw around Kyiv.

If that happens, the Ukrainians have the advantage. If it doesn't happen, then the Russians will have the advantage, at least initially. But it really depends on how far and how fast the Russians can go, and it also depends on how quickly the Ukrainians can react to it.

BERMAN: How quickly they can react, does that involve a resupply here? These are the T-72 tanks. The Ukrainians want more of these. Do they have enough to fight this battle against the Russians?

LEIGHTON: They really don't, John, and this is one of the key things that really needs to happen for them. So the Russians and the Ukrainians both have these tanks.

The Ukrainians, of course, as you said, need more of them, and the reason for this is, these are tanks that are familiar to the Ukrainians. They can work these without major training and they can ramp up very, very quickly.

So as a result of this, this is what they want. This is what they need. But they also have this, the javelin anti-tank guided missile system. That is something that can fight the tanks, whether it's on the steps or in close quarters, such as nerve and combat. So that's why these things are very important.

These weapons are critical, both the tanks and the javelins, and the British version called the NLAW. These are the kinds of things that the Ukrainians need, and they need them extremely quickly.

BERMAN: Colonel Leighton, always a pleasure. Thank you so much for being with us.

LEIGHTON: You bet, John.

BERMAN: So they call him the Butcher of Syria, what the world can expect from Russia's new Commander now in charge of leading the invasion of Ukraine.

Plus, new reports of a rift within the January 6th Committee over whether to refer President -- the former President Donald Trump for criminal charges.

Stay with us.